The Government of Liberia has reached an important milestone in the fight against Ebola with the opening of schools and putting in place protocols, amid a drastically reduced number of new cases of Ebola Virus Disease in the country.
Now that the worst is over, there is an urgent need to make up for a lost school year. The focus now in this post- Ebola recovery process is for schools to put in place conditions that are as safe as possible for children.
School protocols should include safety measures, not only taking children’s temperatures when they arrive at their school campuses and making them wash their hands before entering classrooms. They should, in addition, take into account children’s temperatures as they return to their respective communities, along with the distribution of Ebola preventive materials to use at home. The measures should include classroom spacing, student-to-teacher and health workers ratio.
All schools should be equipped with adequate source of water supply and school children should have access to safe sanitary facilities, like urinals and toilets. In cases of detected elevated temperature among school children, schools should be mandated to provide temporary isolation space for suspected cases.
Zoning of healthcare facilities by schools and health workers should be put into place to ensure adequate transportation of suspected cases to appropriate healthcare facilities. Contact tracing and follow-up visits to monitor children who may be absent from school for health reasons and medical clearance should be required from students who have been sick to return to school.
Additional safety precautions at our schools would require psychosocial support as some children may not return to school and many who lost their parents and friends may find it difficult to cope with school work.
Dealing with stigmatization of Ebola survivors and victims would be critical at this stage. The decision to expel students who deliberately flaunt protocols for safe school is harsh and should be amended (see page 8 of the protocols for details).
In addressing the psychosocial needs of school children, Messengers of Peace (MOP)-Liberia, is committed, through its peace clubs and community education outreach campaigns/programmes, to work with the Liberian government, the private sector and others. It is essential to educate our children about Ebola as a disease and it is equally important to educate them about its psychosocial impact to our stability as a nation. More than anything else in the school curriculum, our children must learn about the Ebola crisis and the period they had to stay away from learning.
The private and not-for-profit sections now have an important role to play in ensuring complete adherence to the protocols for safe school environment. Governments (local and national) should also focus more on providing essential services to poor community schools. The theme of the protocols for safe school environment in the Ebola outbreak in Liberia should be in the best interest of school children.
We are only months away from when Liberia would be declared “Ebola-free.” Until then and with an end in sight, we need to redouble our collective efforts to stop and eradicate Ebola from our country. Support the “Ebola Educates” Campaign in kind through your stories or with your generous cash donation.
Until next week when we come to you with another article on: “Ebola Educates-Community Protocols,” Peace First, Peace above all else, May Peace prevail on earth.